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Matt Weinberger/Business Insider
perfect timing

With the Sony PlayStation VR, virtual reality is having its iPod moment

And it could end up being the right product at the right time.

PEOPLE DON’T REALLY remember this now, but when the Apple iPod first launched in 2001, it wasn’t immediately a huge hit.

Tech-savvy early adopters were more fond of rival MP3 players like the Creative Nomad, which offered more storage and features.

But by virtue of being slimmer and more accessible to nontechnical users, the iPod eventually conquered the market.

Fast forward 15 years later, and the iPod became the first truly mainstream digital-music player, paving the way for the iPhone and Apple’s world dominance while Creative is a shell of its former self.

After spending an afternoon trying out the final version of the Sony PlayStation VR, the €399 virtual-reality headset for the Sony PlayStation 4 video-game console set to be launched in October, I can’t help but feel that we’re heading toward another iPod moment.

PlayStation / YouTube

Which is to say: While competitors like Facebook’s Oculus and HTC build their VR offerings to appeal to PC hobbyists with deep pockets, the PlayStation VR could turn out to be the right product at the right time to make virtual reality accessible to the masses.

To be fair, the iPod was never the cheapest option, so it’s not a perfect analogy. But the iPod was, and is, the gold standard for digital-music players for the mainstream.

Playing with power

Just like the iPod before it, the Sony PlayStation VR is underpowered. Compared to Facebook’s Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive Pre, the PlayStation VR headset is lacking in some under-the-hood specs.

The PlayStation VR’s screen isn’t as high-resolution as the Rift or Vive Pre. And the PlayStation 4 is powerful, but not nearly as much so as the high-end Windows-gaming PC you’ll need to run those competing headsets.

And, sure, sometimes those shortcomings are noticeable. I played a round of the PlayStation VR exclusive Rigs Mechanized Combat League, a fun combat/team-sports hybrid that places you at the helm of a giant robot exoskeleton.

rigs-screen-04-ps4-eu-21oct15 Rigs Mechanized Combat League, a Sony PlayStation VR exclusive. Sony Sony

Before my Rigs match began, I noticed that if I stared long and hard enough at a single spot on the screen, I noticed a kind of blurring, and the dreaded “screen-door effect” that occurs when a VR screen’s resolution isn’t high-def enough to completely fool your eye. It’s something that I’ve rarely run in to in my Oculus or Vive demos.

But then the match started, and I was running, jumping, shooting, and dunking on suckers, and I didn’t notice much of anything.

That’s pretty consistent across the other two games I played, too. Super HyperCube and Job Simulator may not have always looked completely immersive, but I was having too much fun to care.


What you pay for

So then you have to factor in the price. The Oculus Rift will cost €699 when it’s released later this month, and the HTC Vive Pre will be €899 when it ships in April. Plus, a gaming PC powerful enough to use those headsets can cost upward of €1,000.

Meanwhile, the basic PlayStation VR headset itself is €399. It needs a PlayStation Camera to work, which is another €60, if you don’t already have one. And you can snap up a new PlayStation 4 console to power it for €350.

Like most of the first wave of PlayStation VR games, Rigs uses the standard PlayStation 4 controller. Some games, like Job Simulator use the PlayStation Move motion-sensing wand controllers, but they’re not included with either the PlayStation 4 or the basic PlayStation VR set.

Further, there are already 36 million PlayStation 4 units sold around the globe, meaning that the total cost to get into the VR world with Sony is lower than any of the competition.

psvr_3 The Playstation VR headset. Sony Sony

Virtual reality is still a new market. Even Palmer Luckey, the head of Facebook’s virtual reality efforts, acknowledges that it’ll be a long time before the world has fully adjusted and things get really, truly futuristic in that market.

But with a lower cost, a dependency on a cheap system that plenty of folks already own, and existing relationships with the game developers best equipped to make the first killer apps for VR, Sony is poised to give the world its most accessible path to the future yet.

So, no, it’s not the best, strictly speaking, and the market is far from settled outAnd maybe Oculus or HTC will still pull ahead in the long term.

But Sony’s PlayStation VR is definitely looking like the first really, truly mainstream virtual-reality product that goes beyond the super hobbyists and into living rooms across the world.

Read: The Wild Atlantic Way just went all Virtual Reality, and it’s deadly >

Read: Now you will have to be cautious about misspelling websites names >

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